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Lawmakers decry ‘kink’ in Alabama’s COVID vaccine distribution — ‘Our citizens are paying a deadly price’

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Alabama has had a fair number of critics, given primarily for the last-place ranking in the country from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and for a hotline set up by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) for vaccine appointments, which has been overwhelmed at times.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris has disputed the CDC’s findings, arguing it had not considered updated data from the state that would have made Alabama mid-tier. He told APTV’s “Capitol Journal” the solution to all the woes ailing the state would be for more of the vaccine to be readily available.

A handful of Alabama state senators have taken notice of the shortcomings and are urging ADPH officials to get a handle on the data and report to the CDC, which will help the state avoid allotment issues in the future. In a joint letter, State Sens. Jim McClendon (R-Springville), Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) and Randy Price (R-Opelika) warned Alabama citizens were paying a “deadly price” because of the state of Alabama’s struggles.

“We have always known that distributing the Covid vaccine supply would be difficult, especially in the beginning,” the senators stated. “While the supply pipeline is definitely an issue, our pipeline in Alabama has a kink.  The distribution of vaccines to Alabama will continue to be interrupted until Alabama plays by the rules. The rule is simple: The CDC will not authorize shipments to Alabama until they know we are using what we have on hand. Our citizens are paying a deadly price.”

The lawmakers said ADPH had to play by the rules set forth by the CDC and said the following questions had failed to be answered sufficiently by ADPH:

1. How many doses have we received in Alabama?
2. How many doses have been distributed to locations around the state?
3. How many doses have been put into arms?
4. How many doses put in arms have been reported to the CDC?

“If the Alabama Department of Public Health does not know the answer [to] these questions, then the CDC certainly doesn’t know, and it makes no sense to send additional doses to Alabama,” their letter added.

The statement laid out suggestions for resolving those issues.

Sens. McClendon, Albritton, Whatley and Price letter in full below:

McClendon is chair of the Senate Health Committee, Albritton is chair of the Senate Committee on Finance and Taxation General Fund and Whatley is chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture.

The Alabama Department of Public Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Yellowhammer News.

UPDATE 4:30 p.m.

ADPH provided a written statement in response to the senators’ letter.

The department said they wanted to “correct any misunderstanding of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution process.”

Statement from ADPH as follows:

The department is in regular communication with our elected officials in Alabama and has described the process of our weekly per capita vaccine allotments in great detail. The number of COVID-19 vaccine doses allocated to Alabama is based on our population, and is not determined by how much vaccine is on hand in the state. The number of doses remaining from previous allocations does not affect the number of doses that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorizes for Alabama.

ADPH has been in ongoing conversations with CDC to provide our numbers in Alabama.

While the department works with CDC to resolve data issues that have been encountered due to a response of this size, it does not in any way affect the number of doses that Alabama receives.

The data to answer each of the questions asked in the letter is publicly available on the ADPH COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Dashboard, which can be accessed on the ADPH website (arcg.is/OrCey) and has been updated as of January 19, 2021. The data from the CDC is available on its vaccine data tracker website (https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data- tracker/#vaccinations), although CDC has not updated Alabama’s information since January 15, 2021.

Providers are federally required to report within 24 hours of administering vaccine. ADPH uses the Immunization Patient Registry with Integrated Technology (ImmPRINT) system to collect this information. Staff works with providers if assistance is needed.

The biggest obstacle to vaccination in Alabama is the limited supply of vaccine. Alabama currently has approximately 676,000 people in Alabama who qualify to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but since our state is allocated only around 50,000 – 60,000 primary doses each week, the supply is not available to reach these numbers at this time.

ADPH receives thousands of calls, e-mails, and social media messages every day from people who are providing suggestions to help the vaccination process move faster. We appreciate any recommendations, and want the public to rest assured that ADPH has a tremendous staff of physicians, nurses, public health experts, and other medical professionals who continue to work tirelessly on the vaccine rollout in Alabama. A vaccination plan of this size is truly unprecedented, and ADPH is grateful for everyone’s continued patience as we work to put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

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